Part one of Westbrook, Durant drama unfolds tonight

But matchup on the court should be most important story at the end of the night

By Michael Kinney

It’s easily the most anticipated game of the early NBA season. When the Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors tip-off at 9:30 p.m. tonight on TNT, the basketball watching world will have all eyes on them.

The drama surrounding former Oklahoma City teammates Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant has made the NBA relevant two months earlier than normal. Well, at least for one night.

Durant’s departure from Oklahoma City after the Thunder lost a 3-1 lead to Golden State in the Western Conference Finals last season was stunning. The fact he went to the same Warriors squad was earth shattering.

For months after the July 4th announcement, every word out of Durant’s mouth was dissected to see if he was slighting his former team. Or in today’s vernacular, throwing shade. Many times, it seemed that he was.

But recently in an interview with the Mercury News, Durant said he and Westbrook are still brothers and that he handled his departure wrong. That interview just happened to come days before the two teams faced off for the first time. Obviously, not a coincidence.

On Westbrook’s part, he hasn’t said to much publicly about the divorce except to say that he hasn’t spoken with KD yet.

What he has done is lead the revamped Thunder to the best record in the league while averaging a triple double. They and Cleveland are the only undefeated teams left heading into tonight. He has also transformed himself from the moody, angry talent into the fiery MVP candidate and who didn’t run from the challenge of leading the Thunder. At least that’s the way fans around the league see it. For the first time Durant is looked upon as the villain while Westbrook has snagged hero part.

And Part 1 of their three regular season encounters will play out on the Oracle floor tonight in Oakland.

Match up wise, the Warriors have serious advantage. They are No. 1 in the league in scoring at 113.8 for a reason. Even though the nucleus of Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are still trying to merge their games, after the season opening loss, they have won three straight. Durant is the team’s leading scorer at 28 ppg.

Oklahoma City was already a brand new squad even before adding Jerami Grant two days ago. Yet, In one game he has proven trading for him was the right move by General Manger Sam Presti.

But, besides Westbrook, the team’s biggest advantage continues to be their size. Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, Domantas Sabonis and Grant give the Thunder the advantage on the front line. They are averaging 51.8 rebounds per contest.

With Victor Oladipo stepping up his game, the Thunder may feel they can match the Warriors backcourt.

So, while most the television and radio talk shows and newspaper columnist will focus on what will Durant and Westbrook do when they come out for the jump ball, the most important question is are the Thunder for real.

If Oklahoma City can come away with a victory or the very least a competitive game, Golden State will know the Thunder are a serious team they will have to deal with down the road.

After the Thunder beat the L.A. Clippers 85-83 Wednesday, Westbrook was told people expected Oklahoma City to fall off after Durant left.

“That’s where they went wrong,” Westbrook responded.

Durant stuns Thunder, chooses rival Warriors as new home


By Michael Kinney

Kevin Durant waited until the 4th of July to announce his decision on where he would be playing basketball in the future. The free agent forward certainly chose the appropriate holiday to lite up the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise and fan base.

Via The Players Tribune, Durant made it known he would be taking his talents to the Golden State Warriors. He is set to sign a 2-year $54 million deal to play for the team that won an NBA record 73 regular season games.

In his post on the Players Tribune, Durant explained his decision, somewhat.

“The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player — as that has always steered me in the right direction,” Durant wrote. “But I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth. With this in mind, I have decided that I am going to join the Golden State Warriors.”

The announcement came after four days of seven meetings meetings with six different teams that took place in Oklahoma City and The Hamptons, New York. The first two teams he met with were the Thunder and Warriors and they seem to be who his decision came down between.

Oklahoma City had two different pitch meetings with Durant, but obviously they were unable to convince him to stay put and lead the franchise he had been with for nine years.

“Kevin made an indelible mark on the Thunder organization and the state of Oklahoma as a founding father of this franchise,” General Manager Sam Presti aid. “We can’t adequately articulate what he meant to the foundation of this franchise and our success. While clearly disappointing that he has chosen to move on, the core values that he helped establish only lead to us thanking him for the many tangible and intangible ways that he helped our program.”

Durant’s announcement came as a surprise to most Thunder fans, who took to social media to voice their displeasure. That included reviving a 2010 twitter post from Durant in which he said “Now everybody wanna play for the heat and Lakers? Let’s go back to being competitive and going at these people!”

All along, Durant maintained that his decision would be all about basketball and being comfortable with those around him. It’s hard to make an argument that his choice had anything to do with basketball when he joins the team he and the Thunder led 3-1 in the Western Conference Finals before losing three straight games.

That has led some to believe Durant was no longer comfortable playing with Russell Westbrook, even though the two stars had maintained they were tight friends.

With Westbrook being a free agent after next season, he may have told Durant he isn’t planning on being around when his contract is up.

No one knows for sure if the burden of shouldering the franchises hopes had just became to much for him.

Durant will now team with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and coach Steve Kerr to possibly form one of the greatest offensive machines in NBA history. Some have all but guaranteed Golden State will win the NBA title in 2017.

While Durant may finally get the NBA title ring he has thirsted after for so long, it will come with a price. Instead of being the player who leads a franchise to a championship, he will be seen as joining a team who had a chance of winning it without him. That not only does nothing to help his legacy as being one of the all time greats, but it hurts it in many fans eyes.

What Thunder fans do know is that after eight years of investing in Durant and calling him one of their own, he left them at the alter wondering what went wrong.

“I’m from Washington, D.C. originally, but Oklahoma City truly raised me,” Durant said in the Players Tribune. “It taught me so much about family as well as what it means to be a man. There are no words to express what the organization and the community mean to me, and what they will represent in my life and in my heart forever. The memories and friendships are something that go far beyond the game. Those invaluable relationships are what made this deliberation so challenging.

“It really pains me to know that I will disappoint so many people with this choice, but I believe I am doing what I feel is the right thing at this point in my life and my playing career.”

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Decision day finally at hand for Durant

Billboards and murals such as this have appeared throughout Oklahoma City, seemingly as a message to Kevin Durant and the fan base. (Photo by Michael Kinney)


By Michael Kinney

Presumably by the time the sun sets on the fourth of July, Oklahoma City Thunder fans will have their answer. After sweating it out for more than a year, they will know whether Kevin Durant will be staying in Oklahoma or moving on to other pastures.

According to a reports, Durant is expected to announce his decision sometime Monday. That could be true or just one giant tease to increase the stress level on the Thunder organization and its fan base as they try and hold onto this year’s biggest free agent and the most hyped since LeBron James.

After meeting with six different teams over the holiday weekend, it seems to have come down to the Thunder, the Golden State Warriors and possibly the Boston Celtics.

In truth, Durant wouldn’t be wrong with choosing any of the three if the decision truly was all about basketball, which is what he stated it would be more than a week ago.

Both the Celtics and Warriors have a young team with talented players. The addition of Al Horford gives Boston at least one other big name that could team with Durant. The Warriors, as everyone knows, already has three on the roster. That includes two-times MVP Steph Curry.

If either one snagged Durant, they would be title contender for several years.

But the same can be said for the Thunder. However, there is one major clause in that statement. And it centers around the future of his teammate for the past eight years, Russell Westbrook. Since no one outside Westbrook’s inner circle knows what is going to happen when he becomes a free agent after next season, the future of Oklahoma City is not as solid as the other two squads appear to be.

At this time next year, the Thunder could still have both Durant and Westbrook on the roster, one or the other or neither. That is a slightly shakey future.

But you have to assume Durant and Westbrook have had talks. As close as they say they are, it’s hard to imagine either would pull a LeBron James and not let their close friends on the team know their future plans so they could act accordingly, if they have already been made.

But regardless of what discussions Durant and Westbrook have had, Durant’s decision has to be all about him and his legacy. Where can he win titles and where can he lift his name to the upper echelon of the greatest players of all time.

I contend Durant can win wherever he goes. But when it comes to building on his legacy, it’s hard to beat bringing a first title to the franchise that drafted you. Building it from the ground up makes a much better story than chasing it from team to team. That, I’m sure, is the message Thunder General Manger Sam Presti has tried to convey to Durant in their meetings and with the billboards that have magically appeared around Oklahoma City that read “Taking on Tomorrow. Today.”

But it remains to be seen if that will be enough to keep Durant home.

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Can defense propel Thunder into NBA Finals?

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – On Wednesday afternoon the NBA released its list of players who made the All-NBA Defensive teams. The first team was comprised of Kawhi Leonard, Avery Bradley, Draymond Green, DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul.

Absent from the first and second team was any member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. In fact, no one from the team is mentioned until Russell Westbrook’s name pops up under other players receiving votes.

Since the All-defensive team is a regular season award, that makes sense. The Thunder ranked 15th in the league in points allowed. Those are not the numbers that earn defensive recognition.

However, as Oklahoma City heads into Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, defense has finally become their calling card.

“We’ve just got to cover for each other,” Kevin Durant said. “We’ve got to play extremely hard. We’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to give up shots and we’re going to give up layups and threes sometimes, but we’ve got to continue to keep playing through it all.”

With a 3-1 series lead, the Thunder are one win away from knocking out the Golden State Warriors. And defense has been as vital of a factor as anything else Oklahoma City has done. They are allowing 99 points with an 8.0 point differential. That is second only to Cleveland, but Oklahoma City played a much tougher schedule.

Durant has been one of the ring leaders on the defense front. When the Thunder go to its long and tall lineup, he is moved to the power forward spot, which gives him opportunities to protect the rim.

This was not a skill Durant used earlier in his career. But now he has 13 blocked shots in the postseason and has people wondering if he will add the finger wag to his celebration.

“Not as much as Serge has had, but just trying to help my teammates, be there for my teammates, and just contest shots,” Durant said. “If I block them, cool, if I just alter them, that’s cool as well. I’m not going to make any celebrations. I’m just going to do what I do and run back down the court.”

In order for the Thunder to close out this series in Oakland Thursday night, their defense will have to be at its best. With their postseason lives on the line, the defending champion Warriors aren’t going to lie down and just away give what they have fought for the past two seasons.

“They’ve had a lot of frustration over the years,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said about the Thunder. “They’re healthy. They’re whole. They are determined, and they want what we have. We have a banner hanging up in here and we take great pride in that. It’s a hard thing to accomplish, and they’ve been close, but they haven’t done it, and they’re coming after us. They’re really getting after it and playing well and competing. We’ve got to stand up to that. We’ve got to match-up to that intensity.”

Even with a seemingly commanding 3-1 advantage, the tides of fortune can turn in a matter of minutes. Freak injures or the Warriors all of a sudden getting hot at the right moment can derail Oklahoma City’s run to the NBA finals.

The Thunder have the Warriors down, but Durant wants his squad to have a different mindset for Game 5, which tips off at 8 p.m. on TNT.

“Every game you have a sense of urgency, it’s the playoffs and you know what everybody’s playing for,” Durant said. “We’ve just got to come out there and be who we are. We can’t put too much pressure on ourselves we have to go out, play the game, and play with passion and energy. And we know the whole crowd’s going to be against us and we have to stick together even more. Like I said, we’re looking forward to the opportunity.”

Michael Kinney is a freelance writer and can be reached at

Warriors unable to put out Westbrook fire

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – There are nights during a long NBA season that Russell Westbrook can be confounding. Whether it’s costly turnovers, too many shots or erratic play, the Oklahoma City guard can be unpredictable.

Then there are the nights like one he had on Tuesday when Westbrook can overwhelm an opponent with his talent and ferocity. Even when facing the two-time MVP, that combination can be too much to contain.

Westbrook collected 36 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds, leading the Oklahoma City to an 118-94 victory over the Golden State Warriors and moving the Thunder within one victory of the NBA Finals.

“Russell just plays with incredible passion,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “He’s just got such great force and great will. And he is also a really really high basketball IQ player. Just his effort and his energy over the entire course of the game was terrific. As a coach, you sit there and have great respect and admiration for someone who plays that hard gives to the game and to his teammates what he gives.”

Oklahoma City grabbed a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference finals thanks in large part to Westbrook’s first triple-double of the postseason.

I just try and read the game,” Westbrook said. “I try let my energy and my aggression impact the game. That’s what I try to do.”

The defending champion Warriors will attempt to stay alive Thursday at home in Game 5.

Thunder forward Kevin Durant scored 26 points on 8-of-24 shooting to go with 11 rebounds. Serge Ibaka and Andre Roberson each scored 17 points, while Steven Adams posted 11 points and seven boards.

Klay Thompson led the Warriors with 26 points. League MVP Stephen Curry was held to 19 points on 6-of-20 shooting, and he and Thompson combined to make just six of 21 3-point attempts. Harrison Barnes posted 11 points in the loss.

The Warriors lost back-to-back games for the first time in the postseason after never losing consecutive games in the regular season during their record-setting, 73-win campaign. They fell by a combined 52 points over the two games in Chesapeake Energy Arena.

I thought our energy was better than last game, but obviously not enough,” Curry said. “It’s a tough situation to be in, but the series isn’t over. In our locker room there is obviously frustration trying to figure out how we we can get back to being ourselves. We have an opportunity to do that on Thursday, so we’re excited about that.”

Durant came out of the blocks on the attack. Instead of settling for jump shots and 3-pointers, he started the night driving the ball to the rim and forcing the Warriors to foul him.

Durant and Westbrook were a combined 12-for-12 from the line in the first half. As a team, the Warriors only attempted 17 free throws in the opening two quarters.

Our game is to try and get into the paint,” Durant said. “Just try and be aggressive. They use their hands really well, so we try to use that against them.”

The Warriors, who fell behind by 14, got back into the game without their superstars leading the way. It was the play of Barnes and Festus Ezeli that helped Golden State close the gap to two midway through the second quarter.

However, the Thunder kept pounding the boards and winning the hustle points. That included Adams getting to a loose ball outside the 3-point arc and firing a fastball pass to Roberson under the goal for a layup.

The play was indicative of the type of night Oklahoma City was having as the Thunder raced out to a 72-53 halftime advantage.

The 19-point lead didn’t last long as Thompson began to tear apart the Thunder defense. After scoring just four points in the first half, he broke loose for 19 points in the third quarter and helped slice the lead down to seven.

Once again, though, Oklahoma City ended the quarter strong to take 12-point advantage. That would be as close as Golden State would get.

For the second game in a row, the Thunder didn’t let up and went for the kill in the fourth. The Warriors had no answer and pulled their starters with 3:15 left.

Oklahoma City had three players with at least 11 rebounds. As a team they outrebounded the Warriors 56-40.

Golden State’s backs are up against the wall for the first time in two seasons. Warriors coach Steve Kerr believes they will put forth a much better effort with everything on the line.

I think we will respond well,” Kerr said. “Like I said, we go home, lick our wounds a little bit. We play very well at home and the idea is to take it one step at a time. We will bounce back, we’ll play much better in Game 5 and we’ll see where it all goes.”

Michael Kinney is a freelance writer and can be reached at


All eyes on Green, but Thunder can still take command of series

By Michael Kinney

From the moment Game 3 ended Sunday night, all anybody could seem to talk about was one topic. Would Golden State’s Draymond Green face a suspension for his kick to Steven Adam’s groin in Game 3 was the question on every wagging tongue from Oklahoma City to Oakland.

After a day full of drama and suspense, word started to leak out around 6:15 p.m. Monday that Green would indeed not have to miss Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals because the NBA viewed the kick as an “unintentional” flailing of the legs.

“After a thorough investigation that included review of all available video angles and interviews with the players involved and the officials working the game, we have determined that Green’s foul was unnecessary and excessive and warranted the upgrade and fine,” said Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations. “During a game, players – at times – flail their legs in an attempt to draw a foul, but Green’s actions in this case warranted an additional penalty.”

Green was fined $25,000 and his original Flagrant Foul 1 was upgraded to a Flagrant Foul 2. Another flagrant foul and he will be automatically suspended a game.

While most the basketball world waited on the decision to be handed down, Green was publicly confident that he was safe from suspension.

“Like I said, I can see how somebody can think it was intentional, but yet nobody can go in my head and say, Draymond was thinking about kicking him and he kicked him,” Green said Monday afternoon. “If you watch my reaction, I walk back to the three-point line, clap everybody’s hands, turn around and look like, What’s the dude on the floor for? All the camera angles out there, they can see that too. It is what it is. People are going to judge what they want to judge. But like I said, I know I didn’t do it on purpose. My first thought was, like I said last night, I thought it was going to get rescinded, not be facing a suspension.”

One of the reasons Green was so confident was that he said Russell Westbrook was known for the same flailing leg kicks and flopping in order to get a call. Westbrook didn’t agree.

“I’ve never been fined for one flop since I’ve been playing in the NBA,” Westbrook said. “I don’t know about no flopping or nothing. I don’t know how to flop. But it seems like he was the one that was flailing, kicking his legs out and stuff yesterday. It wasn’t me.”

All the talk about Green and his groin kick has overshadowed the most important occurrence that came out of Sunday night and that was the complete and total drubbing the Thunder handed the Warriors. Not only was it the most points the Warriors have allowed this season, it was the most points the Thunder have ever scored in the playoffs in a non-overtime game. And that was with the starters not playing in the fourth quarter.

Much of Oklahoma City’s success came with its smaller lineup that had Serge Ibaka at center and Kevin Durant playing power forward.

The conventional wisdom had been that Oklahoma City couldn’t go small with the Warriors. For at least one night they proved that wrong.

“Yeah, it did surprise me because we are going big and they’re going small, but that definitely surprised me that they’re going small most of the games,” Enes Kanter said. “But you know what, we just cannot worry about it. We have to stick with our game plan and go out there and play our basketball.”

Oklahoma City takes a 2-1 series lead into Game 4 tonight. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. on TNT.

Even though Golden State hasn’t lost back-to-back games all season, the Thunder have a chance to take a commanding hold on the series. Westbrook wants to make sure they don’t let the opportunity slip through their fingers by not focusing on the right things. That includes the drama surrounding the Warriors.

“I don’t have any friends this time of the year on the court,” Westbrook said. “My only friend is just the basketball. That’s it. Everybody else, there ain’t no friends.”

Michael Kinney is a freelance writer and can be reached at

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